August 28, 2012

Erin's Story

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My name is Erin Steiner, and I will be a sophomore in the fall. I am pre-med with a Spanish major. A year ago, I was in your position-a fresh, and very excited, high school graduate, but more importantly a new SLU student. After attending a private, Catholic school for my entire life, I couldn't wait to get to college, enjoy the freedoms of meeting new people, expanding my horizons and never having to wear a uniform of khakis with a tucked-in, monogrammed polo ever again. As you can see by my current outfit, I didn't know exactly how my life would change after a year at SLU and I definitely didn't have everything figured out.

One aspect of my life that I was very unsure of was my faith. Despite my many years of Catholic schooling, I found myself questioning my faith and struggling with my spirituality during my senior year. Although I was very excited to attend SLU, I didn't know exactly how I would fit into the student body of a Catholic, Jesuit institution as I tried to find my spiritual identity. Looking back, I didn't really understand what it meant to be a part of a Jesuit institution-partially because I didn't know the history of the Jesuits.

I now know that St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, was a soldier. However, he wasn't necessarily a soldier of high moral character. In fact, he frequently gambled, drank excessively and mistreated women. His life was an endless journey in which he faced many obstacles. While recovering from a battle injury, he took time for self-reflection and underwent a religious conversion. Even after his conversion to Catholicism, St. Ignatius continued on a journey through which he eventually founded the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits. The Jesuits founded many schools, including our very own Saint Louis University.

The mission of the University is "the pursuit of truth for the greater glory of God and for the service of humanity." Jesuit institutions like SLU promote "educating the whole person" and creating "men and women for others." As I anxiously counted down to the day I would finally make the trip to St. Louis, I thought about all of the opportunities that awaited me at SLU. I thought about intramural sports, new friends and service groups. I wondered how I would become a "woman for others," and what exactly it meant to be educated beyond the academic realm. Little did I know that I would be standing in front of you all today, telling you how I have witnessed the Jesuit mission lived out in my ten short months at SLU or how I would find an organization that would change my life. This organization is the Relay For Life Steering Committee and it is through this group that I have truly seen how students at SLU live out the mission of our Jesuit University.

For those of you who don't know, Relay For Life is the signature event of the American Cancer Society. It is a 12-hour, overnight event that focuses on raising money, awareness and support for cancer victims and their families. To me, this event outlines three important levels of social justice: philanthropy, volunteerism and service. The event raises more than a hundred thousand dollars each year for people suffering from cancer and their families-not only for cancer research, but also for programs such as Hope Lodge, which gives families a place to stay while their loved ones are treated or other programs that provide networking and support groups for cancer survivors.

Beyond the philanthropic aspect, Relay For Life also promotes volunteerism in which hundreds of students donate their time the night of the event to register participants, run games, and sell food. Numerous students in SLU singing and dancing groups willingly give up their free Saturday night to perform at the event. I have seen that SLU students genuinely care about issues facing the community, and are always willing to give back.

Service, the third tenant of social justice, is something much broader. It reaches far beyond raising money or a couple hours of volunteer work. Service means identifying a problem in the community and working to create change for something bigger than any individual. Through Relay For Life, I have seen this in students working for policy changes regarding smoking regulations, not only on the SLU campus, but also in state-wide initiatives.

I have also seen the true meaning of service through the individuals that work year-round to plan such an amazing event. When I joined the Relay For Life Steering Committee, I expected to meet new people, gain some leadership experience and maybe find an organization I could stay involved in throughout my four years at SLU. In reality, I gained so much more than just an organization to add to my resume.

I met some of the most driven, passionate people I have ever had the privilege of working with. Not only did they push me to become a better leader, but they supported me along my journey. I have seen the passion of this group when members stood in the quad during their free time encouraging students to participate in our event. I saw the support of the SLU community when a freshman student was diagnosed with bone cancer and the entire campus rallied around her by making T-shirts, hosting fundraisers and reminding her that she is and will always be a fellow Billiken. I have seen firsthand how cancer has impacted the lives of so many people and how they choose to use this tragedy to work for change and find a cure. This is how I have seen the Jesuit mission lived out by countless SLU students, and I could not be prouder to be part of such an amazing organization. However, this abundant support and compassion is not unique to Relay For Life, but rather is apparent in every part of the SLU community and its Jesuit mission.

Through my experience, I have realized that the Jesuit Mission is not strictly about a spiritual identity, but rather about finding your passion and using it to become an individual who views their life in the context of others' needs. For me, this has been through my service in Relay For Life and the American Cancer Society.

Although I continue to struggle with uncertainties in my faith life, my personal growth from Relay For Life has helped me appreciate the value of attending a Jesuit institution where I have connected with other people through service. Relay For Life is my passion, and I encourage you all to find your own. As you start your journeys I encourage you to challenge yourselves-join a group that will force you to expand your horizons and meet people from different backgrounds. But most importantly, find something you love.

Like St. Ignatius of Loyola once said, "Go forth and set the world on fire." I am confident that the opportunities at SLU will allow you all to do just that, with the entire SLU community supporting and encouraging you along the way.

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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